The East India Company

on Monday, 03 August 2015. 1 Posted in Beyond Wiltshire

The Lacock Archives contains a huge amount of information concerning The East India Company due to the involvement of Henry Davenport who was based at Fort St. George with the Company.  Various documents, letters, journals and bills record his involvement in the East India Company concerning diamonds, pirates and treason.

Coat of Arms for The East India Company

The East India Company was founded to explore trade with India and South-East Asia.  In 1600 the Company received a Royal charter from Queen Elizabeth I awarding it a monopoly on trade between the Cape of Good Hope and the Straits of Magellan.  During this period of time the East India Company was in constant competition with the Portuguese and Dutch Trading Companies.  This often led to conflict between the rival trade companies such as the naval Battle of Swally in 1612 where the East India Company defeated the Portuguese.

The Company began to expand into India creating trading posts in Madras, Bombay and Calcutta in the 17th century.  These trading posts eventually became walled forts and bases of operation for further expansion of trade and eventually conquest.  The defeat of the French during the Seven Years War allowed the East Indian Company to secure its foothold in India and to seek further expansion through military force against local rulers.  During the 18th century Clive of India (from Shrewsbury) won various victories, including the Battle of Plassey in 1757.  This allowed the East India Company to increase its authority and control over the region.

The Battle of Plassey

The East India Company came to an end as an independent company in 1858 through the Government of India Act.  This occurred after the Indian Mutiny (Rebellion) which the East India Company was blamed for.  The Crown took over the administrative role of ruling India and the Company’s armies.     

Much of the history of the Company and its role in India can be viewed from the collection within the Lacock archive.  Henry Davenport was 18 when he joined the East India Company and was based at Fort St. George in Madras (one of the first English fortresses in India).  Davenport was chosen to replace Robert Raworth, a rebellious colleague.  Henry Davenport records his view of events in a wonderful diary and a series of letters.  More about Henry Davenport, his connection to Lacock and his feud with Robert Raworth can be found here.

The archive also includes various letters concerning the problem of piracy in the area and the various perils of the journeys made by the trade vessels.  For example there are various letters and affidavits concerning The Greyhound vessel.  Alex Dalgleish, mate on the Greyhound, records that Captain Jones and M Bennett were made prisoners by the pirates.  Meanwhile John Jones records  "The subscriber do declare that the pyrates came on board of the ship Greyhound in a forcible manner and took from John Bennett and myself the sume of 12500 pagodas"

Affadavit 9 Jun 1709 by John Jones

It appears form these series of letters and affidavits that blame was being laid at Captain Jones and M Bennett and that they were liable to pay sums of compensation for the lost cargo.  

Henry Davenport also compiles a journal of the ;

"Adventures I have abroad, money due to me from severall persons, goods, jewells, plate house-hold moveables and armes. Voyages and goods carried to Bengal, Pegue, the West Coast, China, England, Mallacca, Batavia, Persia, Manilla and Sureat."

Within this are listed the various goods that were traded including diamonds and silks and the cost of various voyages.  The East India Company traded in a variety of wares from spices, opium, diamonds, slaves, saltpetre (used in gunpowder), and tea.

A page from Henry Davenport's Journal

These are only a few examples of the various letters, bills and documents contained within this portion of the Lacock archives and there is much more to discover.